SANDIEGO — Some helper cells may smooth the way for cancer cells to move, a new study suggests. Cells called cancer-associated fibroblasts arrange a normal meshwork of fibers into straight tracks, cell biologist Begum Erdogan of Vanderbilt University in Nashville and colleagues reported December 13 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. Fibroblasts are cells that help construct connective tissue. Erdogan and colleagues examined one type of fiber built of a protein called fibronectin.
Normal fibroblasts form a meshwork of fibronectin that helps support cells. But Erdogan and colleagues found that fibroblasts associated with prostate cancer could either lay straight new fibronectin tracks or grab and pull snarled networks into straightaways that cancer cells could then move along. Such tracks may help cancer spread throughout the body.
Compared with normal fibroblasts, cancer-associated fibroblasts pull harder on connective fibers, thanks partly to increased activity of a motor protein called myosin II. Extra doses of a protein called alpha5beta1 integrin may also give the cancer-associated fibroblasts extra handholds on fibers.